Photo: Bernie Connelly. Apalachee's Jon Lee (24) runs past Marist's Cole Becker (23) during their playoff game Friday.
WINDER -- It took a classic hook-and-ladder play, a faked punt and a gamble with running back Christian Hoard for Apalachee's football team to defeat visiting Marist 36-35 in overtime and advance to its first ever quarterfinal.
The little used hook-and-ladder -- Mike Norman's 14-yard pass to Zack Gentry and his pitch to John Ansley for another 10 yards -- brought the Wildcats to Marist's 11, where Ansley ran the following play to tie the score 28-28 and force overtime. Kicker Guy Hunt's 19-yard pass to Gentry on a faked punt sustained an Apalachee drive that didn't result in points, but Hoard's 4-yard TD run and ensuing two-point conversion run stretched the Wildcats' winningest season to 12-0.
The Wildcats move on to face Griffin next Friday in the Class AAAA quarterfinals.
Their fourth victory by three or fewer points and their third in overtime also was their second consecutive in extra play. Hunt hit a walk-off, 29-yard field goal against Starr's Mill in the first round. The Wildcats beat Loganville 42-41 by stopping Storm Johnson's conversion run in overtime in Week 7, yet this time, Hoard pierced Marist's line for the needed three yards.
The win ignited the crowd at Apalachee, where the Wildcats had never hosted a playoff game until this season -- their fourth consecutive trip to the postseason.
"It seems like every other week we're coming down to the wire," Wildcats coach Shane Davis said. "It feels a whole lot better being at home than on the road."
Marist (9-3) led Apalachee (12-0) four times, but the Wildcats came back each time. Down 14-7 to start the second half, the Wildcats tied on the second of Hoard's three TDs with 8:24 left in the third quarter.
Ansley's 56-yard run tied the score 21-21 in the third, and his 11-yarder forced overtime. Hoard got the winning TD and conversion run when Apalachee gambled for the win in overtime, instead of going for a potential tying extra-point kick.
"You've got to get a little lucky and execute, too," Marist coach Alan Chadwick said.
The War Eagles wasted little time getting on the board, as quarterback Andy Perez capped a six-play drive with a 32-yard scoring run three minutes into the game. And though the Eagles couldn't capitalize after Apalachee fumbled away its first possession, they gobbled up much of the first half with a 14-play drive that culminated in Patrick Sullivan's 7-yard scoring run 6:57 before halftime.
The Wildcats responded with nearly seven-minute drive of their own, moving 80 yards and coming within 14-7 on Hoard's 1-yard run 27 seconds before intermission.